Preparing For Life After Death: The Avoidance of Illusion and The Illusion of Avoidance (For Steve)

The call came in this week.

I didn’t answer.

It was a former South Florida patient.

Of late, I don’t answer calls from former South Florida patients. They have become death notifications–to tell me someone I know has died.

I had believed the illusion that when I relocated to North Florida I would leave death and hurricanes behind.

My attempt at geographic distancing from the facts of life proved to be illusory.

The former patient leaves a voicemail.

They want to talk to me about, Steve, another former patient.

Later that day, I would return the call and learn Steve has died.


The facts of life.

They, whoever they may be, tell us that death is just a fact of life.

Most of us come to “know” this.

And the culture and society provides us with ways to prepare: grief counselors, hospice, funerals, Kubler-Ross’s eight stages of grief.

But I have to become to doubt that one can “prepare” for an experience that has not yet arrived.

All that one gets is an experience of preparing, not the experience itself.  It is waiting for us to arrive and have the experience. (Are we there yet?)



A young couple comes to see me.

They are considering having a child.

They want me to tell them what this experience would be like.

How could I tell them?

I don’t know, and it would not be my experience.

And it has not yet arrived.



A prospective patient e-mails me.

She asks” What would therapy with you be like?”

I respond, “You would have to have a session in my consulting room”

I guess she didn’t want to have the “experience”.

She never came and found out.



I am living in Homestead, Florida.

I am preparing for Hurricane Andrew, or at least doing what I have been told I need to prepare for a storm.

Hurricane Andrew arrives.

I have and survive the experience, but I was not prepared.

But I thought I was.

There is a stark difference between preparing for an experience and actually having the experience.



I want to become a psychotherapist.

To “prepare”, I go to college, major in psychology, graduate but….

I don’t feel prepared.

I learn about lots of things: theories, experiments, statistics.

But I still don’t feel prepared.

After college, I go to work as a “clinical specialist” at a mental health clinic.

One day, my boss tells me I have to go back to school if I “want to get anywhere in the field”.

I don’t want to. I am content.

I eventually give in and go to graduate school and get a Master’s degree in psychology.

But I still don’t feel prepared.

After graduate school, I go to work at a mental health clinic as a therapist.

Once again, my boss tells me I have to go back to school and get a doctorate degree.

I give in again, but this time I choose a unique graduate school.  It is the first free-standing psychology school in the country.  It is a “professional school” with the goal of graduating trained therapists.

I attend the professional school and earn a doctorate degree in psychology.


I still don’t feel prepared.

What I didn’t realize was that since this school was so unique in the field of psychology, it tried to gain acceptance from the more traditional psychology graduate programs by becoming more like them.  So once again I learned about a lot of theories and schools of therapy.  But I still did not feel prepared.

One day, I recall sitting in a lecture and the professor says “Every session has to be minted new, fresh.  If you are thinking about what Freud or Adler or Jung would have done, the session is over.  You are done.  The session is over.”  This is what I had been searching for.


In the consulting room….

When the door closes….

It is just me and the patient.

And the experience.

There is no way to prepare.  You either have and tolerate the experience or find someway to avoid it.

A good way to avoid the experience is to rely on what I know–theories, techniques, what has been effective with other patients.  This way I won’t have to discover anything new.

Of course, the patient also brings their well-developed experience-avoiding skills.

If we are lucky, then perhaps one day, one session either myself or the patient or both of us will be able to stop avoiding and tolerate the experience.



I really don’t know or understand why patients come to see me. I doubt I ever will.

And I am bewildered as to why some patients come back more than once.

I recall Steve strutting proudly into the consulting room.

He wanted to share his discovery with me.

He went to the chalkboard and drew three concentric circles which he said represented the workings of a watch.

He said that most people come to therapy for the outer circle–the symptoms they are experiencing, and once the symptoms abate they leave.

Then Steve pointed to the inner circle and said this is what makes the other two circles work, and that some people come to therapy to figure this out.

Perhaps Steve was correct.



If you the reader has come this far, I imagine you are looking for some answer that you think I will provide, as you are probably unsatisfied with the “experience” I have attempted to provide.

I am reminded of the last lines that R.D. Laing wrote for his first book, “The Politics of Experience”.

He wrote, “If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know”.



Dr. Brody





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